Material Handling
Thursday | 08 September, 2011 | 11:55 am

Innovation from above

Written by By Nick Wright

Gorbel Inc.’s overhead crane solutions are tailored for a range of applications

August 2011- When the gradual swell of demand requires manufacturers to build new facilities or when the unwieldy heft of metal pulls workers away from their jobs to load a cutting machine, overhauling the workflow becomes priority. That’s when Gorbel Inc. comes in. The Fishers, N.Y.-based material-handling company specializes in custom cranes and work stations for an assortment of industries.

In 2009, Hagie Mfg. Co., Clarion, Iowa, committed to expanding its assembly and sub-assembly areas along with an overhaul of its material-handling workflow. Hagie primarily caters to the agriculture industry, producing seed corn detasselers and self-propelled crop sprayers with sweeping boom lengths of up to 120 feet, according to Jim Williams, product marketing engineer.

The 75,000-square-foot addition was designed to accommodate two of Gorbel’s Cleveland Tramrails, which are customizable ceiling-mounted patented track crane systems that allow Hagie to move components seamlessly between its two assembly bays.

“The new system gives us a lot of flexibility,” says Jim Schaffer, maintenance manager at Hagie. He notes Gorbel’s ceiling-mounted crane eliminated space restrictions from support posts common on freestanding work cranes. “With our previous facility, we had to be careful how far out we went. People couldn’t walk around the ends of the booms because we were out of room, and this gives us so much more versatility. We can actually swing the overhead hoist in, put the boom on the machine, and then you have room to walk around it. I mean you’re just not fighting nearly as many obstacles.”

Bracketed by 202-foot track runways, the final assembly area has five 50-foot bridges, each with a motorized trolley, electric chain hoists and 11⁄2-ton capacity. The patented track runway’s hardened, high-carbon steel running surface resists flexing under the demands of constant use and high-capacity loads, Schaffer says. Frequency drive allows operators to control the lateral movement and lift speed, compared to Hagie’s older crane motors, which weren’t as adjustable. “With these, it’s slow, steady speeds, so when you start out with a heavy object or stop with one, it doesn’t swing out of control, and you don’t have five guys trying to steady the piece.”

The sub-assembly area is a leaner hybrid setup, articulated by six 34-foot, lightweight aluminum enclosed-track bridges on patented track runways (three at 1⁄2 ton capacity, the others 11⁄2-ton). Because enclosed track bridges are lighter, they’re easier to move manually at the operator’s desired pace. This setup eliminated dead zones in the work bay, as multiple bridges could be used at all times.

Jeff McNeil, marketing manager at Gorbel, says the Cleveland Tramrail gave Hagie the flexibility it needed to use the entire assembly area. “In the case of Hagie, [patented track] now allows us to give a wider range of product solutions. If we had only sold enclosed track cranes, we would’ve only been able to do about half their applications,” says McNeil. “By adding patented track, we actually took care of their higher and lower capacity needs, and the hybrid system, which is the best of both worlds.”

Safe, custom solution
Although Gorbel’s products are common in the extensive floor space of an assembly facility, the manipulation of metal in the smaller confines of a machine shop can require a customized solution. At Fuller Tool, Newport, N.Y., owner Rodney Fuller’s expanding clientele needed heavier, varied parts that were hard to handle. He had expanded his shop two years ago, and at the time, didn’t think about installing a crane system.

“We were having trouble loading our CNC lathe,” says Fuller. “We were loading parts that weighed about 200 pounds.” To load the lathe, Fuller and his staff were using a small die cart with a small load arm counterweighted by steel plates underneath. Transferring parts, dies, gauges, ingots and other pieces to and from the lathe required Fuller to stand inside the machine while one worker stood on the back of the cart as counterweight and two others steadied it. Taking workers away from their jobs not only ate into productivity but also compromised safety. “I was worried about someone getting hurt or seriously injured,” he says.

An experienced fabricator, Fuller considered building an I-beam crane to move the hot-rolled and cold-rolled steel he machines. With only a 5,000-square-foot space, however, he needed to maximize coverage. Bill Moody, a Gorbel representative with Beaton Industrial Inc., Utica, N.Y., teamed with Fuller to install a 500-pound capacity Gorbel work station bridge crane that revamped Fuller Tool’s operation. Gorbel’s custom header-to-column connections ensured the 16-foot, 11-inch crane runways spanned the shop’s breadth, which proved to be a challenging design element, according to Moody.

“Rodney actually had to have his builder come back and modify the ceiling structure a little bit,” Moody says. “To maintain the amount of headroom, we went with a Coffing hoist, model SL-C, which has a low profile. We were able to tuck the crane system, as much as we could, up in the ceiling as far as the column and support structure in the runway.” In effect, Fuller’s builder installed recessed ceiling panels for the support columns to fit without sacrificing crucial space between the crane bridge and the CNC lathe.

“Gorbel actually modified the runway over their standard procedure. It actually mounted on top of the column, so it gained us back some precious inches,” Moody continues. “It was definitely a unique system that was not a standard Gorbel installation. There were a lot of individual items that were utilized to make this work. They put their thinking hats on along with our initial idea, and they were able to make it work.”

The crane’s ergonomic design reduced what was a three-person job down to a safe, one-person task. Fuller’s operation has become subsequently smoother, simpler and safer. Since installing the crane, “we have been using it almost every day,” Fuller notes. “Jobs are done more efficiently and timely.”

Efficient ergonomics
Originally an installer of heating and air conditioning equipment, GH Metal Solutions, Fort Payne, Ala., evolved into a metal fabrication company for industries including food service, transportation and agriculture equipment. As both a customer of and a vendor to Gorbel, GH Metal is well-versed in the efficacy of reliable material handling. Alan Kilgo, vice president of operations and part owner, says GHMS has worked with Gorbel for more than 10 years.

The cranes are a “pretty core part of our daily life around here, moving materials on and off our laser machines. If we didn’t use the cranes, we’d be using a forklift,” Kilgo says. “The only other means of loading machines is with cranes right now. We wouldn’t be functional without them.”

With a 200,000-square-foot facility and 234 employees, GH Metal has installed a combination of at least 15 freestanding and ceiling-mounted work station cranes positioned over laser cutters, shearers and stamping and machine presses during the last decade, according to Kilgo. Workers need full control of the 5-foot-by-10-foot sheets to keep from damaging costly laser cutters. Vacuum suction devices are used to lift the sheets—hot-rolled steel, mild steel, stainless steel and aluminum—that can weigh anywhere from 100 pounds to 1,500 pounds.

McNeil uses GH Metal as a prism through which he sees a pattern among Gorbel’s customer base that invests in multiple cranes. “Typically what we find is that they buy one. In a place that has twenty machines, they start with a crane over one of them, then slowly but surely, they end up with twenty cranes,” McNeil continues. “What happens is the worker in cell A sees the one in cell B and says, ‘I want one of those.’”

In each application, training has been minimal due to the simple design and ergonomic crane handling. In the case of GH Metal, the intuitive design ensures a cost-effective operation, especially given the size of the operation. “Everybody seems pleased with them. It’s kind of hard to imagine how we would be transferring and positioning materials without the cranes,” Kilgo adds. “It’s part of our way of life around here.” MM

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